Routines and Wellnes

AT THE START of every year, I clean out my closet and drawers because of the idea that anything I have on New Year’s Eve will follow me into the new year, a ritual I inherited from my parents. Chances are you have your rituals too. Maybe you pray before bed or go for early-morning walks with your girlfriends. Blowing out your birthday candles counts as a ritual too. By definition, a ritual is a repeated, purposeful action that feels significant to you.

And it turns out that our rituals may be more powerful than we realize. “Only now, in the last [few] years, [we’ve started looking at the] science of why we do all these things,” says Laurie Santos, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Yale University and host of The Happiness Podcast. In a nutshell: “Rituals allow us to feel better.”

It helps to think of rituals in two categories, says Cristine Legare, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There are instrumental rituals in which we’re trying to gain agency over our fate, she explains. These include superstitions like knocking on wood and customs meant to be healing, such as burning sage to clear out negative energy. Then there are collective rituals—think baptisms and book clubs—about engaging in an activity with a group of people. Each type of ritual has unique perks, and by understanding how they work, we can make the most of these intentional, meaningful acts.

The Calming Effect

If you make a wish when you blow out candles or wear a special bracelet every day, you know the importance and positive feelings rituals can bring. That importance is part of their power, experts say. Instrumental rituals reassure us, which is likely why basketball player Lebron James does the chalk toss before games and why Michael Jordan, as legend has it, always wore his North Carolina practice shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform.

These types of comforting rituals may actually work and not for any supernatural reason. Studies suggest they can boost your confidence and motivation, making you more likely to succeed at your goal.

A group of researchers observed this effect in a 2016 experiment in which they asked participants to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,'” a karaoke classic. Before the challenge, half the participants sat quietly. The other half performed what the researchers described as a ritual: They drew a picture of how they felt, sprinkled salt on it, counted to five, crinkled the drawing, and threw it out. When it came time to belt out the power ballad, the people in the ritual group said they felt less anxious and received higher scores for singing accuracy.

Rituals can bring comfort in times of sorrow, too, says Santos: “Rituals in bad times are particularly useful because they allow you to really feel like you have a sense of control again—that’s the psychological effect.” And such soothing rituals can have enduring benefits. Down the road, simply reflecting on a ritual can be helpful. Michael Norton, Ph.D., a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, looked into this phenomenon in a study published in 2014. Norton and a colleague asked 247 participants to write about the death of a loved one or the end of a close relationship. In addition, some participants also described a ritual they used to cope. (One person washed a lost loved one’s car every week, “as he used to do.”) The participants who wrote about their rituals reported lower levels of grief in the present. “Rituals are really flexible,” Norton says. “If you’re about to perform and are nervous, a ritual can make you feel calm. If someone you loved passed away, a ritual can make you feel less grief. In different situations, they can make you feel the thing that you’re most trying to feel.”

Rituals are already a part of our lives. Why not be more intentional with them and create rituals promoting positivity and wellness in all aspects? Start today by creating a morning routine that helps you set an intention for your day!

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Study source:

Dr. Kimberly VanBuren

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